If you’ve ever wanted to test your ability to keep cool under pressure, get a job as a cook in a popular New York City restaurant. During the years I spent working in a wide variety of the city’s renowned eateries, I learned how to coexist with crazy line cooks, stay out of the weeds and, best of all, how to elevate food into an art form.
But regardless of whether I was sautéing pasta dishes at a Little Italy red sauce joint or shucking oysters at a lobster shack, one constant remained: mussels. As a menu item, they are the champion of the restaurateur: the one dish they can count on to satisfy both their customer and their bottom line. And with a few pointers, they’ll land on your list of at-home favorites, too.
The humble mussel is a tasty bivalve housed in an elongated dark blue-black and silver shell. They are available at most any fishmonger (our recommended listings here) for about $5 a lb., which feeds two. You’ll find the freshest seafood at Blue Moon Fish at Saturday’s Grand Army Plaza market, and trusted retailers like Greenpoint Fish & Lobster Co. or Mermaid’s Garden.
Mussels are easy to cook, but just be sure to clean them well. Pull off the brown threads of its “beard” where the two shells meet and scrub with a brush to remove grit. Store in your fridge for no more than a day in a bowl covered by a damp towel. Before cooking, rinse the mussels with cold water, and discard any that don’t close tightly; they’re dead, and can make you terribly sick.
Mussels with Ginger & Lemongrass Broth, Food Network
Perhaps the most delicious dish of mussels I’ve ever had were the zingy, lemony ones served up in a broth of crushed lemongrass, ginger and garlic. The lemon brings the briny top notes to the front, and a generous scattering of scallions and garlic puts your taste buds on high alert. Perfect with sticky jasmine rice!
Cozze al Pomodoro Piccante, Lidia’s Mastering the Art of Italian Cuisine: Everything You Need to Know to Be a Great Italian Cook
Nobody does mussels like the Italians! Count on Lydia Bastianich to help you create a masterpiece with a can of San Marzano plum tomatoes, a handful of garlic, and some herbs. This savory presentation is best served over pasta, garnished with shredded basil.
Moules à la Marinière, Mastering the Art of French Cooking
Who else but the inimitable Julia Child could make something so easy seem so elegant? Just simmer your bivalves in light dry wine with shallots, bay leaf, thyme and butter and you’ll find out why they call mussels “the poor man’s oyster.” Serve with crispy frites and a Muscadet.
Mussels with Feta and Tomatoes, Food & Wine
This Greek dish sneaks the anise flavor of ouzo and the fresh brine of crumbled feta cheese into your pot of mussels. One bite and you’ll be ready to shout, “Opa!” Great with grilled tomato bread.
Mussels with Coconut Curry Sauce, Food & Wine
In this Breton classic, mussels are paired with curry and coconut. This Epicurious.com recipe has all the usual suspects: bay leaves, shallots, white wine, fresh lemon juice. But it ramps up the sauce by adding coconut milk and curry, and reducing it until it’s nice and thick—perfect for soaking up with crusty bread.